The future is at our fingertips: future-thinking notes and fascinations from 2017

2017 has been a blur of a year that’s made me think about things differently, work differently, and engage differently. I’m not the same person I was in January.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve spent time with visionaries, futurists, makers and creatives, and been inspired to read and watch (and edit) things about perception, neuroscience, history, future-thinking and sci-fi.

For many reasons, I’ve been inspired to explore future-type things that, in the end, really weren’t future at all but right here, right now. I’ve been ‘biohacking’ – hacking my biology – for several years with the aim of healing an autoimmune condition. My last round of tests show that I’ve been partly successful. Anecdotally, I’ve been entirely successful. My greatest medical ally has been genetic data. My wide-eyed GPs who believe I’m incurable can’t fathom what I’ve done. I’m dabbling with gene-based diagnostics, next generation medicine. Though it’s really not next gen, it’s working for me right now. And it’s reasonably priced and accessible.

It’s this realisation that the so-called future is not just on our doorstep but at our fingertips, that has inspired me to learn how to think wide, look long, and listen hard to the big thinkers of our world. Not to watch from a distance but to actively widen my perspective so that I can get involved. Because things are moving so fast that, in the blink of an eye, the fantasy-future is upon us. I want to be ready for it. Part of it. Genetic diagnostics, nano medicine and stem cell therapy are here. The word ‘AI’, now seen in advertisements around the world.

I risk repeating great thinkers, but, in our lifetimes and because of technology, we’re likely to see a seismic shift in how our economy works and how we earn money. And, as a result, our perceptions of wealth and ownership will shift too, and everything else with it. It’s plausible that we’re living on the brink of one of the most fascinating times in human history.

Technology, as in digital technology, has become ubiquitous, so that the word barely means anything now. I feel that ‘technology’, as we now use the word, has been given too much weight: as a race, we’ve always been changed by new technologies – a spear, a wheel, the written word, the internet, an iPhone. With automation already putting people out of work, from highly skilled to manual labour, I think the potential for The Singularity is the least interesting topic on the horizon line. Much more interesting is wealth perception, universal salary, human/machine interaction, and what happens when the boundaries between those are less clear.

It’s not all about code

I do think that as technology challenges and perhaps shatters our status quo, philosophers and artists are going to become a more valuable, pragmatic resource than they’ve been in decades. They won’t just be thinkers and creators on the fringes, but at the forefront of society. I wish that governments would see that being technologically relevant in the future is not all about code – some would argue it’s precisely not about code – but about developing future generations of creatives, philosophers and thinkers too.

Few people look like they care when I bring this stuff up in conversation. Blank stares. Gosh, I think it’s one of the most interesting conversations going. Perhaps I’m just not the right person to be talking about it? Perhaps I should leave it to the tech giants with big money and big voices? But no, why leave it to others to define the future. Why not at least be informed well in advance, and perhaps even take part. The past ten years of tech startups have proved that the future is at our fingertips, if we want it. 2018 is the year to stop thinking small.

Stuff I’ve found informative and inspiring

So, back to basics, which is where I am. In digging into this topic, several books, documentaries and podcasts have fuelled my growing interest. Here’s a list.

Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently by Beau Lotto

If you’re working on inventing things, this is essential reading or listening. The book attempts to show you how to train your brain to inch away from what’s already known, to delve into the uninvented, the unknown.

Just So: An Odyssey into the Cosmic Web of Connection, Play, and True Pleasure by Alan Watts

An audio book that’s not likely for everyone. I’m an Alan Watts fan and I’ve spent years studying Eastern philosophy, so it’s all interesting to me, and he’s immensely entertaining. As an aside, Steve Jobs was a fan too. In this series of lectures recorded sometime in the early 70s, I guess, Watts talks about everything from technology to the economy and automisation, and how these things may alter society. It’s incredibly prescient. Don’t bother reading the book’s website description, it’s not representative.

Bulletproof radio: PETER DIAMANDIS: PART 1 – The Space Episode – #448


PETER DIAMANDIS: PART 2 – What The Hell Is a Moon Shot? – #449

A two-part series of interviews by Bulletproof’s Dave Asprey with Peter Diamandis of XPrize. If you want a super-fast catch up on where the world’s potentially going, and the kinds of businesses future-thinkers are working on right now, these are really (and I mean REALLY) worth a listen.

Year Million – A National Geographic documentary series

The National Geographic website is crap. It does a terrible job of detailing the documentary series, but, if you have cable television (or you’re visiting somewhere that does, as I was), this documentary series is worth watching. It features current scientific thought and discovery, and, through a series of enactments and interviews, extrapolates what human existence might be like in one million years. It’s not a perfect series, I don’t think, but it gives a great look-to-the-distance view. I watched the first four in the series.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

This book has become so popular, it feels clichéd to share at this point. Still, pop status doesn’t dull its relevancy and it’s as relevant to our future as our past.

“What makes us brilliant? What makes us deadly? What makes us Sapiens? This bestselling history of our species challenges everything we know about being human.”

Channel 4 documentary called How to Build a Robot

Fascinating documentary that, via the making of an adorable robot, speaks about human relations and perceptions of robots and machines. I was lucky enough to spend a weekend workshopping with BBC R&D and Rusty Squid, the creators of the robot. These people make interesting stuff, and they think interesting too. The documentary may not be available to stream by the time you see this blog post, sadly. And its availability depends on your locale.

To you, a thinking wide and thinking big, happy New Year!



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